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  • Writer's pictureBrian Fish

If the Phone Rings, Answer It

There was a doctor in my hometown who was a close family friend of ours. He was involved in community programs and was doing some work with a new foundation. The board members were charged with the task of coming up with a Mission Statement. This was back in the 80’s, maybe early 90’s. Knowing my Dad was a successful business owner and assuming he had a lot of experience with things like mission statements and business plans, he asked my Dad for advice.

“Hey Ron, do you have a Mission Statement for your business?” asked our friend. “A Mission Statement? Yeah, I have a Mission Statement. Do you want to know what it is?” my Dad answered. “Yes, please!” pleaded our friend.

“If the Phone Rings, Answer It.”

It’s kind of funny to think of this mantra today in a world where nobody actually answers their phone anymore. The only people I know who answer their phone when it rings are salespeople, and only half of them do it.

My Dad’s business had nothing to do with answering phones, by the way. It was more a metaphor for life. Keep it simple stupid. Don’t go for rah-rah if you can get it done with rah. Common sense prevails. If the phone rings, answer it. It really comes down to the one key ingredient, the ultimate prerequisite for everything in life - show up. Show up today, show up tomorrow, show up the day after that. It’s amazing how things get sifted out through the time tested measure of attendance. Do the next right thing.

Fast forward about 25 years and I found myself in business with my Dad and I was tasked with the job of writing our business plan. It was to be written for some corporate suits so we could check a box and impress some people with our organization. Needless to say, I had a blank slate from which to work. No template. No past examples. No looking back at last year’s plan. I started from scratch, expending time, effort, analysis, and contemplation to create a business plan (cover page and all). It was pretty and it was clean. We received great reviews. The corporate suits were pleased. Maybe placated is the better word. Oh, and not only did it have a newly invented mission statement, but it also had a vision statement for good measure.

And then, we never looked at it again. I certainly couldn’t tell you today what that mission statement was.

Isn’t this so common? In a world of self help, gurus, coaches, and corporate suits, we get stuck in the vortex of over-thinking, over-talking, over-emailing, and over meeting. Sometimes, when the phone rings, all you need to do is the next right thing - answer it. And in business, when the phone rings, things happen. Is it better to sit around contemplating the pros and cons to answering the phone and calling a meeting to discuss if it should be answered or just answer the damn thing?

I think you’re getting the lesson here. Nothing good ever happens without some action. I’ve known really smart people who get ready, aim, aim, aim, aim, and aim some more without ever firing. And I’ve known some super successful business people who just fire, move forward, and fire again. In fact, the ultra successful people never put off for later something that can be done RIGHT NOW. I just finished reading Will Smith’s autobiography “Will” and there are two specific stories that come to mind. One involved Quincy Jones and the other Steven Spielberg. Both stories involve these two ultra successful GSD (get stuff done) guys seizing the opportunity of the moment, realizing there is only one chance to answer the phone. When the phone stops ringing, the opportunity has slipped. Success comes with action.

“Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the face.” This is a famous quote from Mike Tyson. Think of a boxer jumping in the ring against Tyson back in his prime. Don’t you think that plan probably changed about 4 seconds into the first round? Business is boxing. Who has ever written a business plan that actually served as the exact road map for any appreciable amount of time? In business, unexpected road blocks (punches to the face) happen all the time.

This is not to be confused with goals. Goals are great for extracting clarity. They help define what it is you are pursuing. They give meaning and assign focus to your actions. They keep you from wandering too far.

Business usually isn’t pretty and polished. You won’t find a business plan framed and on an office wall somewhere. It’s likely in a drawer or file cabinet somewhere, as untouched as the day it was printed. The only way business plans work today is when they are visited, discussed and modified regularly. They have to get messy and the target has to be constantly moved. I recommend a digital document outlining your big rocks with listed initiatives, actions, and problems. The document gets updated each week as you remind yourself what you have set out to accomplish and move forward with progress. As for mission statements, the only ones that actually mean anything are those with excruciating simplicity. I’ve got one for you: If the phone rings, answer it!

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